The Holy Rosary, by Father B Rohner, OSB

a Catholic Rosary with a Saint Benedict medal placed in the center of the cross; photographed on created 23 Jan 2006 by Daniel Tibi (Dti); swiped from Wikimedia CommonsHigh up in the Alps there once dwelt a family of shepherds. The oldest daughter of this family, though but thirteen years of age, was compelled, in order to enable the parents to live, to ascend day after day still higher in the mountains in search of pasture for her little flock of sheep. Under a hanging precipice a hunter had set up a simple image of the Blessed Virgin, out of gratitude for a miraculous escape from impending death in the wilderness. Hither the shepherd girl loved to drive her flock. It seemed to her that more grass grew there than anywhere else, and the sheep were always so quiet there that they really needed no watching.

Every morning the devout young shepherdess made it her duty. a pleasant one indeed, to gather a quantity of wild Alpine roses, to weave them into a garland and to entwine them gracefully about the statue of the Blessed Virgin. Then she would kneel before the garlanded image and hold devout, childlike converse and prayer With her blessed Mother in heaven. In reward for these simple acts of sincere and genuine piety, God was pleased to permit this devout soul to attain a high degree of Christian perfection. But her virtue was to be tested and proved. A severe fit of illness laid the poor girl on a bed of pain. She was now unable to climb the mountain-height or to adorn the image of her beloved Mother. This thought made her sad, very sad indeed, so much so that she would not be comforted. Her anxious mother perceived that some secret sorrow was weighing down her child. When she discovered the cause she instructed her daughter how to weave a still more beautiful wreath of flowers, which, though it would be invisible to mortal eyes, would be pleasing to Mary, who would permit it to be placed at her sacred feet. The mother taught her child how to say the Rosary. The sick girl was at once comforted and happy, and ceased not to repeat over and over again her “Hail, Mary,” firmly believing that each successive prayer was a fair, bright rose to adorn and honor her heavenly Queen.

Not only to this simple girl, but to all Christians tarrying here below in this vale of tears, and who carry about with them the two-fold burden of a heavy heart and troubled soul, God in His goodness has granted a means and an opportunity of adorning Mary with roses, and this, too, in an easy, loving and useful way.

Dearest reader, are you one of those servants of Mary, who often, every day if possible, exert themselves to decorate the brow of our Virgin Queen with the spiritual flowers composing the devotion of the beads? Do you entertain a high appreciation and a necessary comprehension of this sublime, though often despised and neglected devotion?

The Rosary an Excellent Devotion on Account of Its Origin

Many trials and afflictions weighed heavily on the Church of God during the thirteenth century. The hearts of many Christians had become not only devoid of holy faith and Catholic charity, but filled with sensuality and godlessness. This was the case to an alarming extent in beautiful France, that country always so dear to the heart of the Blessed Virgin. In that land the restless, mischief-making Albigenses had seduced the people from the truth and led them into wicked excesses. In the year 1208 Pope Innocent sent to the affected districts a young, delicate, inexperienced monk, named Dominic, with orders to preach anew the exact doctrines of the Church on faith and morals. Dominic came to the scene of his future victories, armed simply with the weapons of truth and an unbounded confidence in the Blessed Virgin. Placing himself under her protection, and relying on her aid, he went manfully to work. To his fervent and constant prayers he added sighs, tears, tastings and other exercises of severe self-mortification in the hope of speedily appeasing divine justice. After three years of hard inward struggles and outward mortifications he was encouraged by the Blessed Virgin and taught by her how to proceed.

Going out one day from the city of Toulouse to a wood that was near by, he threw himself on his knees, and from the inmost depths of his heart cried out to God and His holy Mother for assistance in his discouraging work. He remained in the wood three days, praying fervently and strengthening the effect of his prayers by most severe penances and mortifications. Finally he sank down, weary and dispirited, on the ground. Then the glorious Queen, surrounded with dazzling splendor, appeared to him, and said in gentle tones, “You know, my son, the means made use of by God to redeem mankind. The first of these was the angel’s greeting to me and his message. This was followed by the mysterious and grace- bringing birth and the subsequent holy life of Jesus Christ. Finally came His glorious Resurrection, and Ascension into heaven. It was by these mysteries that the world was redeemed and the gates of heaven were opened. The self-same mysteries, in the life and Passion of Jesus Christ, together with the ‘Lord’s Prayer’ and the ‘Hail, Mary’ several times repeated, form the garland of flowers that compose my Rosary. Announce and explain, then, this garland of mysterious roses to the stubborn heretics. It will be the beginning of their conversion.” Having spoken these words the vision disappeared. Saint Dominic rose from the ground much comforted, and returned to Toulouse.

Our saint, enlightened by this miraculous vision, understood that to the impetuous torrents of sin and error, it was necessary to oppose the power of simple prayer, for ignorance of Christian truths, and a consequent contempt for them, formed the fountain of the evil before him. Accordingly the saintly messenger of God, with irresistible eloquence, presented to his hearers the fifteen mysteries of the holy Rosary, as a short epitome of the Gospels, as an abstract of the life, sufferings and triumphs of Jesus Christ and of His immaculate Mother. These truths he repeated in his public prayer-services, and repeated them over and over again until he succeeded in imprinting them on the minds and hearts of the people.

The Rosary an Effective Form of Prayer

The effect of these preachings in Toulouse, Agen, Beziers, and other strongholds of heresy, surpassed all Saint Dominic’s expectations. Even Rome was astonished. The people now came in crowds to listen to the explanation of the fifteen mysteries and to join in the common prayer of the holy Rosary. They clasped the beads affectionately, kissed them, and bedewed them with their tears. The sighing of the penitents often interrupted the sermons, and the public worship. Soon the churches were found to be too small to hold the crowds that presented themselves. In fact the devotion of the Rosary spread so rapidly, and brought down such blessings, that in the course of a few years thousands of heretics were reconciled to the Church and thousands of sinners were placed once more in the paths of penance and virtue. Saint Liguori, when speaking on this subject, said, “As suddenly as the walls of Jericho crumbled down at the sounding of Josue’s trumpets, so suddenly did the heretics and their heresies disappear before the power of the holy Rosary. The pool of Bethsaida, at Jerusalem, was not more healing to the diseases of the body than was the devotion of the Rosary for the diseases of sinners’ souls. Aye, even the prophet Eliseus did not infuse life into as many dry bones as Dominic, by prayer, infused spiritual life into souls dry or stiff in vice, awakening them again to life and grace.”

Thus the devotion of the Rosary had its origin directly from Heaven. Nor were the effects which it produced at its first appearance on earth less miraculous. Yet its whole excellency is not confined to this miraculous character.

The whole effort of the Christian must be so directed as to bring before his mind with practical effect the great work of redemption, together with the truths that it involves, thus strengthening his faith and thus, again, warming his heart with devotion. He must also bring frequently to his contemplation, and with vivid effect, the virtuous examples of Jesus and Mary, in order to be able to imitate them truly and perseveringly. But one cannot find any means of bringing these examples more vividly and really before the eyes of his soul than they can be brought by the devotion of the Rosary. For in it are described briefly, but graphically and forcibly, in the so-called mysteries, their lives, and their sufferings and love for man. By means of these mysteries, or short epitomes, these events are deeply and permanently engraved on the memory-tablets of the Christian soul.

Yes, it is these mysteries that give to the devotion its whole value. They are the kernels, the sum and substance, the precious stones. About these precious stones the remaining portions of the devotion are entwined like a precious garland of flowers.

As when the priest at the altar puts the grains of incense into the fire in the censer, and causes a cloud of fragrant incense smoke to rise towards heaven, so do we mingle with our prayers these precious mysteries, together with the infinite merits of Jesus and Mary. Could a more pleasing or a more fragrant incense of prayer be sent up to the Eternal Father than these mysteries, accompanied by “Pater Nosters” and “Ave Marias”?

It is these same mysteriesl too, that raise the quality of a simple prayer to the value of a sacrifice. It is not merely pious desires, devout supplications and actual sighs and tears that ascend to heaven and to the heart of God, our Father, by means of the Rosary. The whole sum of those deeds and sacrifices, those sufferings and merits, whereby the great work of atonement was made possible, and by which it attained consummation, are offered up to a loving God by a pious and at the same time intelligent worshipper when reciting his Rosary. Moreover the Christian, when praying properly on his beads, unites to these infinitely precious gifts of offering, which in themselves are pleasing to God, himself, his body, his soul, his avocations and his sufferings. Now, by virtue of this union, all that he is, and all that he has, becomes an acceptable gift of sacrifice to God.

As you are aware, Christian reader, these fifteen mysteries taken together form the whole Rosary, which is sometimes called the psalter. Five of the mysteries, together with the usual accompanying prayers, form a small Rosary. The first five mysteries compose what is called by some the joyful Rosary, because it contains the joyful message of redemption in the Annunciation, by the archangel Gabriel, as well as the conception and birth of the Redeemer, from the ever Blessed Virgin Mother of God. The five middle mysteries have reference to the sufferings of Christ and to the share which our sorrowful Mother had in them. This part of the Rosary is therefore designated as the mournful Rosary. The third or glorious Rosary contains the mysteries of the glory and triumph of Jesus and Mary in the Resurrection and Ascension of Christ, as well as in the Assumption and Coronation of Mary. Hence we call this the glorious Rosary.

This three-fold division affords this advantage: one or the other may be said, whether in public or private devotion, according to the times or festivals occurring during the ecclesiastical year. Again, those persons who have not time or opportunity to recite the whole fifteen decades of the beads, may nevertheless be able to weave a lovely and precious garland of spiritual roses and to place it at the feet of their beloved Mother.

Christian piety endeavors still further to use these fifteen holy mysteries in another manner, to the spiritual advancement and advantage of souls. In order that the attention to the grace-laden events of the Incarnation of the Son of God, and 0f the redemption of man, may not be limited to the brief period occupied in saying the Rosary, but be extended throughout the length of the day, an ingenious division and distribution has been invented, whereby the prayerful Christian is kept constantly in mind of the blessings of redemption. One mystery has been assigned to each of the fifteen hours intervening between getting up and retiring to rest. Thus, by availing himself of this method, the Christian may keep himself constantly at prayer and meditation and in a consciousness of the presence of God.

The first mystery of the joyful part of the Rosary falls, of course, to the first hour after rising from bed. The last mystery of the glorious part of the Rosary closes the day. At each separate devotional exercise the Christian presents the sacred mystery before his mind and heart and, uniting himself to it, offers it up to his heavenly Father. He then closes the brief exercise with a devout “Hail, Mary” to the Blessed Virgin. It is impossible to describe, Christian reader, how effectually such a devotion contributes to the sanctification of souls. Practice it often. Be not deterred by difficulties. Even if you sometimes forget it, still persevere. In a short time it will become a pleasant, easy and profitable habit which you would not wish to lay aside.

The Rosary Awakens and Strengthens Confidence in the Christian

If, as we certainly do, we expect to obtain a hearing for our prayers, and to have them granted, on what do we base our hopes and expectations? On what else than the merits and love of Jesus Christ in His birth, in His life, in His sufferings and death, and also on the motherly love of Mary? Hence the soul of the Christian at prayer ever repeats, “through the merits of Thy Son, who for our sake was born, crucified, and buried, hear us, O Eternal Father; through thy Son, whom thou, O Virgin, didst conceive, bring forth and offer up, we beseech thee to pray for us!”

Christ Himself has said: “If you ask the Father anything in My name, He will give it you.” (John 16:23) Are not these words verified in the devotion of the holy Rosary in a most remarkable manner? Are not the merits of Jesus and His Mother offered up to the Eternal Father? Does He not hear us, and grant our petitions, out of consideration and by virtue of those merits?

Every word contained in the devotion of the Rosary is in itself highly sacred and sanctified. Are they not words that have been made holy by the very lips of the Redeemer, who Himself taught us to use them in prayer? Sanctified, too, they have been by a prince of heaven, who first pronounced the “Hail, Mary.” Have not these words been uttered for centuries by the lips of holy. heroic, self-sacrificing martyrs, and consecrated virgins? Millions of poor, grief-stricken, abandoned, deeply bowed down souls have, with confidence, sent these words on the wings of fervent prayer to Heaven, mingling with them their sighs and tears. These words have kept company with the penitential tears of contrite sinners, and with the charity-fires of holy, innocent souls. In short, these words of the holy Rosary have been the language with which men have held converse with God. and which a kind and loving God has been at all times ready to hear and to grant.

But you may object and say: “Such frequent repetition of the same thing, the constant reiteration of the ‘Hail, Mary,’ for instance, deprives the prayer of dignity, of devotion, of all good effect.” Christian reader, there are certain kinds of food that are always laid before us on the table, that are never absent, and yet they never become distasteful to us, and do not disagree with us. Bread, for instance. We must partake of such food be- cause it agrees best with us. So it is with the prayers that God has taught us. They correspond the best to the nature of the human soul. For God knows best, and He has the right to prescribe in what way He should be prayed to and worshipped. These simple words, so often repeated, and so full of the deepest and sublimest meaning, must by constant practice become gradually identified with the every-day thoughts and dispositions of him Who repeats them.

The Rosary Simple and Easy

The holy Rosary is simple, easy, and well adapted to the comprehension of the lowly and unlettered, as well as of the better educated. The child who is barely able to repeat the words of the “Our Father,” the simple man who cannot read and who is just capable of understanding the necessary elementary truths of his religion, can easily learn how to practice the devotion of the Rosary by merely listening to others repeating the few simple prayers composing it. Such persons, too, retain and remember it easily, for the arrangement is plain and simple. They also understand its meaning without much mental effort, for it contains the best known and the most striking incidents in the lives of Jesus and Mary. The learned man discovers in it the sum and substance of divine revelation, an epitome of theology. To those persons who have made the greatest progress in the way of Christian perfection, it offers an inexhaustible object for meditation and a perpetual incentive to mental prayer.

In the days of our forefathers, when books were scarce and costly, and when many were unable to read them, scarce as they were, the Christian people had one universal mode of addressing their prayers to Heaven. This was the devotion of the Rosary. Who would venture to maintain that the piety and the devotion of those past ages were inferior in any respect to this age of innumerable prayer-books, many of which are void of true devotional strength and wholesomeness?

Even today can there be any state of Christian society where another form of devotion would be more useful and profitable than that of the Rosary? Some poor, neglected, yet pious person lies for weeks, day and night, all alone on his bed of sickness and pain, with no one but God to speak to. Take from such a person his prayer-beads. How shall he pass the weary hours? How forget his pains? Where can he find words of prayer to address to his God? How shall he ask for strength and patience? Place his beads in his trembling hands and he is happy, for like the pious shepherdess, who is described in the initial paragraphs of this chapter, he feels that it is yet in his power to weave a garland of simple spiritual flowers and to lay it at the feet of his blessed Lady. The solitary traveller on his journey, whether in the trackless desert or on the boundless ocean, whether at day or night, the pious laborer in the field, the seamstress at her needle, the mechanic at his trade, the mother of a family at the bedside of her sick children, all these, if they desire to pray, can say their Rosary unnoticed and unheard, save by God alone. What more delightful occupation on a long winter evening for a family, that is too tired after their day’s work to seek outside amusement and too scrupulous to waste their time in idle and useless conversation, than to recite the Rosary together? In old age, when our strength wanes, when our faculties fail, especially our eyesight, when books weary us, when pleasure has lost its charms for us. when eternity draws near, what more consoling and useful devotion can we have than the simple recital of the holy Rosary?

Yes, the Rosary is adapted to the comprehension and circumstances of every individual. It is a common property among all good Christians, and, therefore, is in the widest and truest sense, a Catholic, that is, universal devotion.

Indulgences Attached to the Devotion of the Rosary

There is a widely spread association called the Living Rosary Society. Members of this Society many indulgences have been granted by the Sovereign Pontiffs. Even those who are not members of any Rosary Society may gain many of these indulgences if they say their beads with proper intention and devotion. Pope Benedict XIII, in a letter dated the 13th of April, 1726, granted to all the faithful who with a penitential heart would say the Rosary, an indulgence of a hundred days for each “Our Father” and each “Hail, Mary,” also a plenary indulgence once a year, to be gained on any day chosen by such persons, provided they have said the Rosary once every day during the year. On the 12th of May, 1851, Pope Pius IX confirmed these grants, and added to them another, giving ten years and ten quarantines, that is, ten times forty days, to all the faithful who say the Rosary in common with each other, Whether publicly in the church or in the family circle, or in any other place. To all persons who make a practice of reciting the Rosary at least three times a week, and who comply with the usual conditions, namely, the reception of the Sacraments of Penance and Holy Eucharist, a visit to a church or public chapel, and the prayer for the intention of the Pope, a plenary indulgence is granted on the last Sunday of every month.

In order to gain these indulgences the person must have prayer-beads blessed by an authorized priest. He must also, while uttering the prayers and telling his beads, meditate on the mysteries of the birth, Passion and death of Jesus Christ. For those, however, who are unable to meditate, it is sufficient if they recite the Rosary with as much devotion as they can.

From all that you have here read about the holy Rosary, you ought, Christian reader, to feel yourself moved to recite your Rosary frequently and piously, for the sake of your own temporal and spiritual welfare, for the benefit of your fellow-beings, and for the love of your beloved Mother, Mary, the Queen of the Rosary.

– text taken from Veneration of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Her Feasts, Prayers, Religious Orders, and Sodalities, by Father B Rohner, OSB, adapted by Father Richard Brennan, LLD, published in 1898 by Benziger Brothers; it has the Imprimatur of Archbishop Michael Augustine, Archdiocese of New York, New York, 22 June 1898